Den of Thieves

Posted by Jill Carattini, on June 23, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

When brazen thieves made off with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and “Madonna” several years ago, I wanted to join the search. The thought of adding Munch’s works to the secret galleries of art forever lost was upsetting to say the least. I pictured clumsy men dragging irreplaceable works through sullied alleyways and destructive elements. Like most, I dreaded the worst. Valuables cannot be trusted in the hands of thieves.

Of course, these men were conscious that they had in their possession something of value. If the paintings had meant nothing to them, they would never have been worth stealing. With the rest of the world, the thieves were well aware of the nature of the items they held in their hands. At the time of the burglary “The Scream” was estimated at 75 million and “Madonna” at 15 million. But for them “value” took on an entirely different meaning. In thieves’ hands, beauty is something to be exploited. It is smuggled into a dark underground and bartered for in secret. Its true value has been exchanged for something lesser.

The Scream.jpg

Edvard Munch, The Scream, oil, tempera, pastel, and crayon on cardboard, 1893.

One of the claims of the Christian worldview is that God has set his glory before the world. Since the beginning of time, Christians believe, God has shown his faithfulness, his goodness, his grandeur. God has placed his countenance upon us and trusted us with his Name. God sent his human Son to be with us and through him offered the assurance of new life, new robes, new creation. And repeatedly, we have taken his Name and exchanged it for something lesser. We have dragged it through sullied alleyways and destructive elements, holding this treasure like thieves, having lost the true value of all we hold. We follow God not as God but as something smaller—something exploited for pride or held as personal virtue.

When Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all of the vendors and money changers, he said in person what God had proclaimed for years: “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?” (Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus not only addressed the merchants, whose eyes were too focused on wages, but he denounced leaders and authorities, and pilgrims who had lost their footing. Thus, the prophet from Nazareth overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and he pronounced the words of God one more time: “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers'” (Mark 11:17).

God’s Name cannot be trusted in hands of thieves—of this God is well aware. Yet even so, God continues to place it before us:

“For this is what the high and lofty one says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy:

‘I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
I will not accuse forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me—
the breath of man that I have created…
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him'” (Isaiah 57:15-18).

Into grubby hands and deceptive hearts God continues to place his Spirit. This is the strange and difficult and interesting headline of Christianity. Though we behave like thieves, we are trusted with treasure.

To the delight of art aficionados across the world, Edvard Munch’s stolen masterworks were later brought home. There had been speculation that the thieves had burned the paintings to escape the police search, but fortunately, they did not. The frames were smashed in the getaway, but the pictures for the most part were returned unharmed. They remain again in loyal hands.

On the contrary, all of the riches of the glory of God have been placed in hands that are prone to exploit his mercy, abuse his Name, and exchange his glory for something far less significant. But even a den of robbers cannot stop the work of God. As Christ drove out the deceit of the temple so he continues to drive away our own lies that block us from seeing all that exists in our hands. The house of the Father is open to all, and we are not thieves but children.


Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.